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Pickup Truck Fuel Consumption, Then And Now

According to month-end reports from the Detroit-Three automakers, vehicle sales in March rose substantially for all of them. Ford of Canada says its sales of pickups jumped by 12 per cent. Maybe a twist on this old adage explains it — in spring a young man’s fancy turns to love… of new trucks. If that’s true, maybe now is a good time to take a look at just exactly what your truck-buying dollar gets you when it comes to fuel economy.

All of the regulatory pressure put on vehicle manufacturers lately has forced them to spend a boatload of money on engine development to keep pace. According to Mark Johnson, a spokesman for Environment Canada, there were no fuel consumption targets for pickup trucks in Canada until 1990. Today, however, things are very different.

Beginning this year, manufacturers face new emissions standards, too. “We have established tough regulated standards to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions beginning with the 2011 model year,” he says. “Over the lifetime of operation of the 2011 to 2016 model year vehicles sold in Canada, these improvements are estimated to result in a cumulative reduction of 92 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions.”

APPLES TO APPLES

For the average pickup truck owner, though, what does all that really mean?

The new Chevrolet pickup on the right, rolling off the Flint, Michigan, assembly line will get much more impressive fuel mileage than the 1984 model on the left did.

To put it all into perspective, I took a look at some estimated fuel mileage numbers from 27 years ago and compared them, as closely as possible, to today’s models. The U.S. Department of Energy keeps track of such things. Here’s what their figures show.

But first, lets set some ground rules to keep the caparisons fair. I’ll stick with miles-per-gallon ratings (m. p.g.), because most people still prefer using them rather than litres per 100 kilometres. And to provide a sense of what effect the results have on day-to-day life on the farm, lets assume it takes a trip of about 40 kilometres (25 miles) to go to town and get the mail — even those with email still need to clean the advertising flyers out of their mailboxes once in a while, right? So lets take a look at how much less fuel the new pickups use making that trip and see what, if any, difference there is to our impact on the environment doing it.

In the 2008 model year the EPA changed the way it estimates fuel mileage. Those changes tend to lower overall mileage ratings in comparison to the previous method. The EPA now uses faster driving speeds and acceleration rates, accounts for air conditioner use and tests in colder temperatures when determining m.p.g. data. That makes mileage numbers for newer vehicles look less impressive than they really are — at least when compared to older tests.

And don’t forget, these ratings refer to U.S. gallons, which are smaller than the imperial measurement we’re familiar with. So Canadian data will show better mileage figures. But we’ll stick with U.S. numbers here to avoid any confusion.

Four-wheel drive is practically standard equipment on a farm truck these days, so lets compare those. OK. The rules are set. Now lets get down to numbers.

OLD VS. NEW

To begin with, lets go to the all-time leader in pickup sales, the Ford F-150. The estimate for one built in 1984 equipped with a 5.8 litre engine mated to a three-speed automatic transmission is a combined rating of 11 MPG (10 city, 12 highway). Therefore, a trip to the post office with that truck would consume just under eight litres of fuel.

In contrast to that, a 2011 F-150, equipped with a slightly larger 6.2 litre engine (the closest comparable) and six-speed automatic has an EPA combined mileage rating of 13 MPG (12 city, 16 highway). That means driving the new truck to town would consume 7.27 litres — 0.6 litres less than the 1984 did.

When it comes to emissions, the EPA calculates the new Ford will pump a lot less CO2 into the environment than the old one did. Assuming both pickups average 40,000 kilometres of travel annually, the new one will emit 2.6 tons less CO2 than the 1984 model, despite the larger engine displacement.

For the Chevy/GMC pickup, the story is similar. A 1984 K-10, powered by a 5.7 litre V-8 mated to a four-speed automatic transmission has an EPA adjusted estimate of 13 m.p.g. (11 city, 15 highway). That means it burns 7.26 litres to go to town and back.

A 2011 Silverado K-15, again with with a slightly larger 6.2 litre engine, uses only 6.78 litres to make the trip. It has a combined average of 14 m.p.g. (12 city, 18 highway). That saves you 0.49 litres on the trip. And when it comes to emissions, the Silverado coughs out only 13.3 tons CO2 per year, much less than the 1984’s 14.3 tons.

Here’s what you get if you opt for GM’s Sierra 15 Hybrid 4X4 with a 6.0 litre engine: a combined MPG rating of 21 (20 city, 23 highway). Annual CO2 emissions drop to 8.9 tons. Now a trip to town uses only 4.5 litres.

Finally, here’s how the Dodge Ram fares. Equipped with a 5.9 litre mated to a three-speed automatic, it managed only a combined m.p.g. rating of 10 (9 city, 12 highway), putting it in last place back in 1984.

The 2011 model improves on that. A current 5.7 litre, five-speed automatic rates 15 m.p.g. (13 city, 19 highway). But while it may look like the best rating in this group, don’t forget it has the smallest displacement engine of the three brands compared here.

What’s clear from all this is no matter what truck you choose, its fuel consumption will certainly be lower than its ancestor of 27 years ago. Given where sticker prices have gone over that same time period, you may now need that advantage to help you make the payments on it!

ScottGarveyismachineryeditorforGrainews anddrivesaless-than-newpickup

About the author

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Scott Garvey

Scott Garvey is a freelance writer and video producer. He is also the former machinery editor at Grainews.

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